Utah Legislature Offers Unique Approach to Immigration Issue

In essence the compact admits that while immigration is a federal issue, Utah should adopt reasonable policies addressing those immigrants already in Utah. It urges local law enforcement to focus on criminal activities and not on civil violations of federal code.

In the most unique approach to the immigration controversy in the nation, Utah’s legislature has approved separate bills for Gov. Gary Hebert to sign. The governor was lobbied fiercely Wednesday by supporters and opponents of the bills, urging that he veto them.

One bill, the one that has garnered most interest nationally, approved by a bipartisan coalition in the legislature would allow the state’s 110,000 undocumented immigrants to register as guest workers to live and work in the state legally provided they paid a $2,500 fine and pass a strict criminal security investigation in order to get a permit for two years. HB 116 would need a waiver from Congress, and would not go into effect even if the governor signs it until July of 2013.

Another approved bill, HB 497 includes Arizona-style enforcement provisions – although not as stringent – would go into effect 60 days after the governor signs it. Under it, police would be required to check the immigrant status of anyone stopped for a felony or serious misdemeanor. A person stopped for lesser infractions would be questioned at the discretion of the officer, and only if a person does not have valid identification.

The Associated Press said that groups on both sides of the immigration debate are threatening to boycott Utah and sue the state if the governor signs any of the immigration bills approved by the legislature.

Stan Rasmussen, director of communications for the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank in Salt Lake City, told that HB 116 introduced by state representative Bill Wright, who describes himself as a conservative Republican, was “a start, a step in the right direction.” He said it would help bring people out of the shadows and shed light on a complicated issue.

Rasmussen said that before Wright’s bill could go into effect, even if the governor signs it, Utah would have to obtain a waiver from Congress inasmuch as granting people the right to live in this country is a prerogative of the Federal government.

“Congress would have to grant that permit,” Rasmussen said.

He added that Wright’s bill, co-sponsored in the senate by Stuart Reid, met the five principles set last November by representatives from corporations and businesses, state and city governments, community organizations and faiths who signed a document they called “The Utah Compact” to guide the state’s discussion of the divisive immigration issue.

In essence the compact admits that while immigration is a federal issue, Utah should adopt reasonable policies addressing those immigrants already in Utah. It urges local law enforcement to focus on criminal activities and not on civil violations of federal code. It states that Utah champions policies that keep families together and improve education and well-being of all Utah children. It acknowledges the economic role immigrants play as workers and taxpayers and that Utah’s immigration policy must reaffirm its reputation as a welcoming and business-friendly state. And it concludes that Utah should always be a place that welcomes people of goodwill.

Still the bills approved by the legislature last Friday have met strong opposition from many on all sides of the political spectrum. The Utah bills are awaiting Gov. Gary Hebert’s approval. He previously said he supports the package of bills generally, but has not committed to signing all of the bills.

Mormon church leadership did not take any position on the immigration legislation, spokeswoman Kim Farah said. They have emphasized some guiding principles, such as compassion for neighbors and a concern for keeping families together, she said.

In an editorial published Wednesday, the Deseret News urged the governor to sign the bills into law.

“As Utah’s Legislature finishes its work today we acknowledge the thought, the effort, the resolve and the heart that went into passage of immigration reforms that thoughtfully step up enforcement, improve public safety and provide a pragmatic guest worker program that doesn’t create a path to citizenship,” the editorial said. It added that a poll conducted by the newspaper showed that 71% of the residents of Utah approved the package of immigration bills.

Meanwhile the Salt Lake Tribune said “that bill, HB 116 and Rep. Stephen Sandstrom’s enforcement-only bill, HB 497, are awaiting Gov. Gary Herbert’s signature. Herbert’s office has given no indication when or if the bills will be signed — though several opponents and supporters of the immigration reform package of bills believe he will sign it.”

Still there was more.

According to Salt Lake Tribune, “Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute said he would like to see Herbert sign HB 116 and the migrant worker bill, HB 466. That bill, sponsored by (Curt) Bramble in the Senate, would enter Utah into a relationship with the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon where the state could get trained workers to fill jobs in the state through visas issued by the federal government.”

Herbert said he was considering all sides of the argument.

“At the end of the day, I’ve got to take all the facts and the input I receive and look at the bills and understand them, because I’m going to have to defend it whatever I do, and then factor that into what is in the best interest of Utah, not only today but tomorrow, and that’s what I’m going to do,” the governor said.

The Americano/Agencies